BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused both Egyptian security forces and jihadists of committing “war crimes” in their confrontation in the restive North Sinai region.
“While Egyptian military and police forces were responsible for the majority of abuses documented in the report, extremist militants have also committed horrific crimes,” the New York-based group said in a 134-page report.
“Some of the abuses carried out by government forces and the militants, which this report documents, are war crimes, and their widespread and systematic nature could amount to crimes against humanity.”
HRW compiled the report over two years interviewing more than 50 residents of the Sinai Peninsula, in northeast Egypt, where independent media coverage is effectively banned and a state of emergency has been in force since 2013.
In late 2017, North Sinai was the scene of the deadliest attack in Egypt’s modern history when militants killed more than 300 worshippers at a mosque, without any group claiming responsibility.
Islamist militants have kidnapped and tortured scores of residents and also attacked security forces.
Security forces have likewise targeted Sinai residents arresting thousands and forcibly “disappearing” dozens, according to the HRW report.
Children as young as 12 have been detained in routine sweeps eventually being jailed in secret prisons.
Alongside the report, a video was released showing footage of air strikes on residents’ homes and extrajudicial killings of suspected jihadists by security forces.
“Why all of this? Should we carry weapons and work with the militants or work with the army or live like victims? Everyone is preying on us,” said a North Sinai resident interviewed for the report.
HRW called on the United States to halt all military assistance to Egypt until gross violations are fully investigated.
Egypt has for years been fighting a hardened insurgency in North Sinai, which escalated following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Since then, hundreds of police officers and soldiers have been killed in militant attacks.
In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide operation against Islamic extremists, focused on the North Sinai.
Some 650 militants and around 45 soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to separate statements by the armed forces.